18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
What does it take for a person to leave everything behind and follow someone else? If a stranger came to you one day and said, “Follow me,” would you drop everything and go with that person? Probably not.
But Peter, Andrew, James and John did. For some mysterious reason, all of them were able to drop what they were doing and follow Jesus at once. We read that in today’s story.
At once they left their nets and followed him.Matthew 4:20
Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.Matthew 4:21, 22
We can’t help but wonder why or how they did that. It seems as if they didn’t even think twice about it. I would need at least a day to think things through. They left their nets, their boats, and even their family behind. They just went with Jesus.
Both Matthew and Mark tell this story almost in an identical way. Brief and straight to the point. Luke, however, tells it a bit differently. Luke is a good storyteller. He adds more detail to what happened that very day. It’s a whole passage of its own, but let’s look at it together.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.Luke 5:1-11
Interesting, isn’t it? Luke’s story gives us a better sense of why Peter, Andrew, James and John might have followed Jesus at once.
The four of them didn’t just meet Jesus. They experienced who Jesus was. That itself was the miracle, not the amount of fish they had caught. Peter especially felt that he didn’t deserve it. No wonder he said, “Get away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” He didn’t see himself as someone special and deserving. He was only a fisherman.
The extraordinary thing about today’s story is not that the disciples left everything behind and followed Jesus, but that it was Jesus who came to them first. Jesus was a rabbi – a teacher. Back then, if you wanted to study and learn under a rabbi, you had to go seek them out yourself. It would’ve been ridiculous to expect them to come to you.
But Jesus did. He came to the disciples first. He didn’t go to those in high and special positions. He went to the ordinary folks, like you and I. He showed genuine interest in their lives. He got into Peter’s boat. What does that tell you? He inserted himself into Peter’s everyday life.
Our attitude towards God is similar to Peter and the disciples. We believe God isn’t all that interested in our everyday life. Why would God care about me doing homework? We see our life as mostly mundane, repetitive and boring. We think God feels the same way. We don’t expect much from God because of it. So we keep him out.
Yet through Jesus, God showed us that he is interested in our life. God wants to be involved in our life. God wants to rejoice with us when we are happy. God wants to help us when we are in need. God wants us to show us the greater things of life. What did Jesus say to Peter after they caught all that fish?
Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.Luke 5:10
Jesus didn’t help them catch that many fish just so that they could be content and settle with what they had. The abundance of fish was a sign of his promise that they can live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. It was an invitation to let him into their lives. So that he could show them the better way.
That is what following Jesus means. “Follow me” is not a demand. It’s not an order. It is an invitation to a new way of life. A complete change to the way we think and live. It is to let God be wholly involved with our life.
It can be quite scary to let someone into our life. It’s the same as letting someone into our hearts. We have our doubts and suspicions. We need to be able to trust that person.
God does come to us first. But God doesn’t force or barge his way into our life. God doesn’t do it against our will. Instead, God let us know that we can trust him. God shows us that he has our best interests at heart. God assures us that we can trust him with everything.
When we experience God’s love, care and promise for us, that is when we follow him. That is how the disciples were able to leave everything behind to follow Jesus.